Arab Israelis worry about Lieberman's ideas becoming real

Gov't accepting Lieberman's principles will be the beginning of serious deterioration in relationship, says MK Sarsour.

liberman professor 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
liberman professor 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
For Nabil Sa'ad of Umm el-Fahm, MK Avigdor Lieberman's idea to swap Arab communities in Israel for West Bank settlements constitutes a real threat. Since the "Abu Mazen-Beilin plan" became public in 2000, "the people of Umm el-Fahm have been living in frustration and anger that they are going to move them from place to place without anyone asking them," Sa'ad said earlier this month from his crowded restaurant. The leaked document, which never was officially adopted and whose authenticity was denied by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), called for an exchange of territory, West Bank settlements for Arab villages inside the Green Line. Now, with Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu the third largest party in the Knesset and the right-wing bloc a majority, Arab politicians and activists say they are preparing for the worst case scenario - the implementation of Lieberman's "transfer" and "no loyalty, no citizenship" proposals. The latter would require all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, to declare their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state. "Lieberman is serious concerning the loyalty law," MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta'al) warned on Tuesday. "If the coming coalition, the right-wing coalition of [Likud chairman Binyamin] Netanyahu, supports this kind of incitement against the Arab minority inside Israel, it will be a turning point in the relationship between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority inside Israel. It will be the beginning of serious deterioration in the relationship," Sarsour said. Arab Israelis see no need to demonstrate their loyalty to the state. The vast majority were loyal to the country in terms of accepting the Israeli system and abiding by its laws, even though some of them discriminated against them as Arabs, Sarsour said. "What worries me about this phenomenon is that it puts me all the time in a cage as a suspect," by suggesting that Arab Israelis are a threat to the Jewish public, he said. "It's a great bluff. It's not reality. It's very threatening as an Arab, as an individual, and as a collective." For MK Afo Agbaria, an Umm el-Fahm resident who represents Hadash in the new Knesset, such a land swap would be illogical and unfair. "The formula is not correct," Agbaria told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "The settlements are not legitimate settlements and the settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are not legitimate... but Arabs in Israel are the original owners of the land and we are legitimate residents in the country. There is no room for comparison." Agbaria said he would do his best to oppose such proposals, which he described as fascist, anti-democratic and racist. Arab activists and their supporters say that both the loyalty proposal and swapping land would be unconstitutional and thus likely challenged in the courts. "The Israeli High Court said that citizenship is not something that can be easily taken away or revoked," said Orna Kohn, a staff attorney with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. "Lieberman's views are very dangerous, because they would undermine the meaning of citizenship in Israel." Citizenship was a universally recognized right, upheld by international human rights instruments and conventions to which Israel was a party, she said. "They're an extreme violation of these protected rights," she said of Israel Beiteinu's proposals. In addition, Kohn argues that the two proposals are based on ethnicity, and thus violate the right to equality. She said the citizenship proposal, for example, targeted Arab Israelis rather than haredim, who also might oppose declaring their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state. Supporters of the proposal deny that it is based on ethnicity and say it would apply equally to everyone. "I don't know of any state at all - but definitely not any state that claims to be or is seen as a democracy - that dares to deprive citizens of their citizenship based on a loyalty test or any other test... [required] to acquire their natural birthright to be citizens," Kohn said. As for trading away land that includes Arab Israelis, a country cannot simply choose to dispose of its own citizens or their property, she said. "It's their land and it's their citizenship," she said. If such a law was approved by the Knesset, Adalah would certainly take legal action, Kohn said. "This is what we've done before; this is what we've done with clearly racist laws," she said.